The Sudden Pianist

"... astounding facility at the keyboard." -- International Piano
Michael Hersch
Michael Hersch
Catalog Number: 
new classical

Baltimore, MD

Release Date: 
May 28, 2013
Liner Notes: 
1 CD

The Sudden Pianist

One Sheet: 

Long-established as a leading voice among composers of his generation, Michael Hersch is also one of the great pianists of our time. While always few, his public performances have become increasingly rare. This special CD/DVD package includes Hersch performing his "Suite from The Vanishing Pavilions" live in concert, his first appearance as a pianist in New York City in over a decade. Also included is a film of that performance and a documentary, The Sudden Pianist, focusing on Hersch's music for the piano and his performance of it. 

An official selection of the 2013 American Documentary Film Festival, The Sudden Pianist is an intimate portrait; a film which sheds light on this aspect of Hersch's music-making with never before seen or heard footage of the composer performing his own work at the piano - from his debut to the present day. There are also rare interviews throughout. The film is a moving journey into the mind of one of America's most unique artists.

From the liner notes by Jason Eckardt: 

"... Hersch refuses to take the middle road, forcing the listener to confront a series of expectations that are thwarted. The Vanishing Pavilions Suite is never comfortable or settled. Even in the work’s darkest moment of stillness, there is an underlying tension seeking resolution. Every passage keeps pushing forward, each movement urges toward the next ... The sounds that Hersch conjures from the piano are tactile, often weighty; they loom and haunt. There is the tangible presence of the composer moving through the music’s emotional worlds not just as pilot and navigator but also as sympathetic companion."


"[Hersch] conjured volcanic gestures from the piano with astonishing virtuosity. Everything unfolds in open-ended, haiku-like eruptions, though built on ideas that recur throughout ... from a lamenting, chantlike melody to passages of such speed and density you'd think the complete works of Franz Liszt were played simultaneously within three minutes. Overtly or covertly, The Vanishing Pavilions is about the destruction of shelter (both in fact and in concept) and life amid the absence of any certainty. And though the music is as deeply troubled as can be, its restless directness also commands listeners not to be paralyzed by existential futility." -- The Philadelphia Inquirer 

"This is music of raw, elemental gravity, which proceeds at its own unhurried pace. The music of each movement has an immediate, visceral impact; it sounds like it springs from, and speaks to, some deep, primordial place, unmediated by any system or even the niceties of compositional correctness. The variety that Hersch's tonal and gestural palette brings to each movement, as well as the music's restless, unpredictable rhythmic energy, commands the listener's attention. Hersch's performance is stunning in its vitality and virtuosity."  


"... Hersch is a brilliant pianist, and there could be no better advocate of his own music. ... the work is barely fathomable: reflecting terror, agony, wonder. I hesitate to describe it. It seems both intensely personal and universal. It is ferocious, desperate, manic; titanic, daunting, world-containing; visionary, apocalyptic, inexorable. You sometimes want to look away from it; it can be terrible to contemplate. And yet you still heed it. You sense that the piece is both reacting to this world and striving for something beyond. I intend to live withThe Vanishing Pavilions for a while longer. It has gotten under my skin, as it must; it has even disturbed my sleep. Michael Hersch has something to say, and he bears listening to." 

-- National Review

"There is an urgency and terseness to Michael Hersch's writing that retains interest from first to last.  The technical demands are vast. This is disquieting music, to be sure.  It holds its spell not because it offers windows of hope but because it forces us to examine ourselves as we are now."

-- Fanfare Magazine